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It was the ad for a La Jolla restaurant that pushed me over the edge. The headline read "Martinis and Manicures."

"For $20, indulge in your choice of martini while you're pampered with a manicure under the stars. Every Monday night , 6 p.m. to 9 p.m."

At one level, San Diegans are rolling now in more money and more indulgences than they've ever known. That's not the case with most of us.


When our sons and daughters can no longer afford to live in San Diego, we know our city is in trouble.

Real estate agents keep a straight face about multimillion-dollar houses they've just sold. They know the housing market isn't like this everywhere.

Day by day, a few more San Diego families cash in on their houses and move back home, as so many like to say, to buy a larger home and still have tens of thousands of dollars left in savings.

So why is San Diego different?

Inflation is not a serious problem in America. We can't blame that for this wild escalation of housing prices.


But San Diego has become a hot item. The old way of law supply and demand is at work in the unprecedented demand for upscale homes and condos. Those of us in the middle classes hang tight, knowing that fortunes come and so do crashes.

But among the wealthy around the world, the smart-money word is out about San Diego: Live here if you can, or if you can't. Invest in a San Diego home or condo.

The irony is tht so many of our most expensive homes are virtually empty. We learn why from county tax records these houses stand occupied for months, tended only by security and by gardeners.

They are second, third, or even fourth homes for their owners.

These people have one or more additional homes somewhere else and presumably take their annual homeowners' tax exemption on an even grander home.

Americans have always tried to reconcile the democratic dream with the eternal contrast of rich and poor. The gap between rich and poor in San Diego has never been more vivid.

If there were conscience enough at City Hall, we would be doing much more to encourage affordable housing. Land developers have always had an upper hand at City Hall. The issue of housing subsidized by taxpayers is thorny.

What we might be doing is to consider whether San Diego is to become another Santa Barbara, hiding its poor somewhere across the road, or, in San Diego's case, south toward the border, which is already the source of so much of our city's labor.

Now in the case of the Napoleonic French, the flagrant display of aristocratic wealth led to the guillotine. There's nothing sinful, of course, about a $20 martini and manicure. But then think about the Tijuana multi-millionaires whose bodyguards drive them about in battered old Toyotas. Because in Tijuana, flagrant wealth invites kidnapping.